Category: Personal

Things I Wish I Knew Before I Started My Own Business

I graduated from college 10 years ago, and since that point, I have had a full-time, salaried job, until June of this year when I decided to go out on my own and start my own freelancing business.

Now that I’m about six months in, I have a list of things I wish I’d known when I started. Some of these things are practical, some are philosophical, but all are good advice for anyone thinking about going out on their own.

  1. It’s better to start with systems than to develop them as you go
  2. Pay for the accounting software
  3. Your business name doesn’t matter nearly as much as your business structure
  4. Working for friends can be a blessing, but it can also be the hardest client relationship to manage
  5. Insist on signed estimates and deposit checks before starting a project
  6. Hold on to your free time. Just because you work at home doesn’t mean that you’re always at work
  7. Be confident in your abilities, but know when to ask for help
  8. It’s OK to outsource things you’re not good at (more on that in my next post)
  9. The worst part of any job is going to be billing – dealing with money sucks
  10. Save everything – receipts, business cards, notes, emails, mockups, draft documents, checks, etc. – you never know when you’re going to need to refer back to something
  11. And above all – remember the reason you’re doing this – whether it’s for creative freedom, the ability to work from anywhere, the ability to spend more time with friends or family, remember that reason and hold on to it. There will be hard, horrible days where you’ll wish you could go back to a full time job, or where you’ll want to fire clients, resign accounts, and quit projects. On those days, it’s important to think about why.

    For me, there are multiple reasons why freelancing works for me, but one of the biggest is that life is short, and there is so much in this world that I want to see and do, and so when I have a hard day, I remember a raft trip down the Nolichucky river on a Wednesday morning, and how it was a perfect day, and how in my previous jobs, it was a day I would have had to miss, sitting instead in my office while the leaves went from green to yellow to red, and then fell off the trees. Those are the kind of days that make it all worth it.

Home for the Holidays

I am home in Colorado for the Thanksgiving holiday and I’m enjoying time with family, and the natural beauty of this country.

We’ll have a traditional Thanksgiving feast tomorrow, with turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, rolls, green bean casserole, and cranberry sauce. We’ll watch parades and football and sit by the fire.

I want to wish everyone a happy, healthy holiday season, and remind you to stop, take a breath and appreciate the traditions (old and new) that this season has to offer.

Happy Thanksgiving!

American Advertising Federation Asheville

When I moved to Asheville, one of the things I worried about was finding a fantastic community of professionals, like the one I had in Washington, D.C.

I was a pretty regular attendee of events hosted by the Online News Association in D.C. and loved the inspiration and camaraderie I got from that group. Of course, our community was huge in D.C. (note the specialized nature of the group) and I knew that I wouldn’t have quite that size group here in Asheville.

But last year, I found the American Advertising Federation of Asheville, and felt some of the elements I was looking for. This year, I’m serving as the Education Chair for the group, which gets me involved in board meetings and other decisions. We’re a small group, but we host great programs and social events.

Being the education chair has allowed me to meet with students at the local colleges in the area and hear from them what they want in a professional group following college. We are hoping to attract some of these students to the group and need to provide networking events and interesting programming to do so.

Our challenge this year is membership and attendance, since our group is small and new, but I hope we continue to grow and provide great programming for the year to come. If you want more information on the group, check out the American Advertising Federation of Asheville and come to an event!

What is it that you do, exactly?

How many times in the past three months have I heard that question? So, so many times. What’s worse, I don’t really have a good explanation for it. My career services counselor from grad school would be so disappointed that I haven’t perfected my elevator pitch yet, but there’s a reason for that.

This excellent article from CSS Tricks explains exactly why it’s hard to explain what I do.

Working in the web industry, my job title and job description is ever changing. Add to that the fact that I have experience and interest in doing a vast number of things and you’ve got the problem outlined in that article.

According to his descriptions, I am mostly a “front end developer” with some “content strategist” and “SEO specialist” elements mixed in. But I also do digital advertising, social media, and other tasks on a fairly regular basis.

How about you? What job title do you give to people?

#TBT: The Last Time I Was Unemployed

The last time I was unemployed was when I returned to Washington, D.C., after finishing grad school in Chicago. This was a weird time in my life. I had left a great job to get my master’s degree in journalism, and then returned to Washington, where I thought I had a great network of contacts, excellent, well-connected references, and a shiny new degree that would certainly lead to the job and career path of my dreams. Right?

Fast forward two months and I have worn out my welcome at every guest room, couch, and floor of my friends and friends of friends. I have sent out maybe 50 resumes with no response. I have had coffees, dinners, lunches, and happy hours with people who should be able to help me get in touch with people who are looking for someone with “exactly my skillset.” And, to add insult to injury, I have broken my wrist in an ice skating accident.

So… sitting on a friend’s couch in Oakton, Va., eating bite sized foods,  I did what I had to do. I emailed my former employer to see if there was any work that would be a good fit for me and my new skills. They knew I hadn’t intended to come back, I knew I hadn’t intended to come back. But there was a job available, and the pay was good. So back I went.

And I got great experience. And I learned a lot of things about a lot of things. But the most important thing I learned is that I will do whatever needs to be done to make it on my own. And if I hadn’t ended up back at that company, I may never have decided to move to Asheville. And that was one of the best decisions I ever made. So now, when I’m just starting out on this whole self-employed journey, I know I will do whatever I have to do to make it work, and I know I will learn a lot. And most of all, I know it will lead to great things, no matter what.

On My Own: Or, How Unemployed Became Self-Employed in 24 Hours or Less

About a month ago, I left my job at the Advertising Agency in Asheville. There were a lot of reasons, some positive, some negative, but mostly, it just wasn’t a good fit for me personally or professionally, and it was time to make some major changes in my life.

I had been planning an exit for a couple of weeks and when the end finally came, I was prepared to be “unemployed” for several months, if I had to be. Most importantly, I was not planning to immediately start looking for a new job. Instead, I wanted to take some time to think about the things that I liked and wanted to do, and the things I absolutely did not want to be in my next job description.

What happened next, however, was unexpected to say the least.

Within about 24 hours of leaving my job, I had lined up enough meetings for enough freelance projects to take me well into the fall. While not all of them ended up working out exactly the way I wanted them to, I do have a roughly 100% success rate in signing all these clients. What’s my secret? Most of them are friends (and I definitely realize that well will run dry sooner than later), but I am also finding that when I’m doing work that I am truly excited about (in this case, web development), it comes across in the way I describe my day and my projects. I also can’t overlook the fact that I am priced relatively competitively in this market, especially compared to a full service agency fee.

So now, I am getting used to answering “self-employed” on applications for credit cards and online services. And I’m figuring out how to split my days between billable hours and networking for new business. I’m rapidly learning the ropes of estimates, invoicing, and all the other items that go with being my own business. And I’m loving every minute of it!

If you are looking for web or digital marketing services, or are interested in working with me on other projects, please contact me at meganmjonas (at) gmail (dot) com. In the coming days and weeks, expect some improvements on this site to let you know what I’m doing and what kind of projects I’m looking for in the next few months.

Getting Started is the Hardest Part

Why is getting a project started always the hardest part?

I have a number of big projects waiting in the wings and I know that once I get them started I will be obsessed with finishing them. These are truly the types of projects I love to do.

But I always have the hardest time getting them started. I procrastinate. I clean, I cook, I write blog posts and yet there those projects are, waiting to be started, finished and invoiced, and I just can’t seem to do it.

I told myself last week that if I could just get through that crazy week at my day job, then this weekend, I would have hours upon hours to dedicate to these projects. Then yesterday, I told myself that if I could just get this basic housekeeping work done (a proposal that needed finishing, a couple of profile sites that needed basic setups, grocery shopping, Target, a new windshield wiper blade for my rear window – see, I really know how to procrastinate), then I could get started.

Now it’s 6pm on a Sunday night and, while I feel like I accomplished a lot this weekend, I don’t feel like I’ve done enough for these clients. But maybe if I just have dinner… then I can focus…

I hiked so hard I broke my boot

Today, I hiked. I woke up to a beautiful, warm, Western North Carolina morning (the first one we’ve had on a weekend I’ve been in town all year) and I decided to put aside work (yes, work on a Sunday… blurg…) and head for the trails.

I chose a challenging trail in the Bent Creek Experimental Forest just outside of town. The guide book said the trails can be quite muddy after a rainy week like we had, so I laced up my trusty hiking boots and headed out. It was hard, it was long, and it was amazingly fun. Several times while hiking, I thought to myself, “this is the reason I moved here.”

About one mile to go on an eight mile hike, I felt like something was dragging on my left foot. I looked back and saw that the sole of my boot had almost completely detached from the shoe. I flipped and flopped out to the trail and thought about all the good times I had in those boots, which I’ve owned for about 10 years. They were sturdy but comfortable (and bought on sale!) so I just never saw the need to replace them.

But sometimes you have to replace things that are old, outdated, broken, or just plain falling apart. In business and in life, you have to think about the tools you’ve “always used” and decide if they are still the right tools for the job. Just because I build sites in WordPress and use Dreamweaver, Coda, and Filezilla every single day, doesn’t mean those will always be the right tools to use. Part of succeeding in life is knowing when it’s time to retire some of those things.

And so this week, I’m boot shopping.

A Return Journey

This weekend, I am returning to D.C. for a visit, something I haven’t done since I left over a year ago. In fact, by the time you read this I will already be there (the joys of scheduled WordPress posts).

I am looking forward to catching up with old friends, most of whom know I am really, really bad at staying in touch, but won’t hold it against me.

I am also hoping for at least a little bit of good weather fortune, as we’re supposed to get something between snow and freezing rain here in Asheville over the weekend, and DC’s forecast looks just about as bad. I’d like to get to some different parts of the city in my brief, 48-hour stay, but the weather might not cooperate.

Still, it’s not a tourist visit or a work visit. The trip is about seeing people who I love and if we spend all weekend camped out on someone’s floor, that’s probably OK too. But I will refuse to leave if I don’t get a cupcake from Sticky Fingers – so consider yourself warned, D.C.

#jonasreturnstodc

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